After beating breast cancer, many women face the fear of the cancer coming back. This fear was a reality for Touro Patient, Jo Thompson. Seventeen years ago, Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast. With support from her family and friends, Jo underwent a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy, and she was given the clear from cancer.
But in October 2015, Jo felt something strange in her left breast. Being a breast cancer survivor, she has experienced many breast calcifications but something told her this was different. She decided to make an appointment with her OB/GYN to discuss the lump in her breast. Her OB/GYN thought it might be nothing because of her recent mammography screening. Jo was still apprehensive about the lump and made an appointment with Touro Breast Surgical Oncologist John Colfry, MD.
After a month of testing, Jo’s worst fear became true. Her breast cancer had returned in the same breast. It was identified as a triple negative, which is a more aggressive type of cancer than her previous diagnosis. “After hearing the word “cancer”, I became scared. I began thinking about having to go through chemotherapy again,” Jo says. Jo met with her Oncologist Milton Seiler, M.D., the person who treated her 17 years ago with her first diagnosis.
Once Jo healed from her surgery, she began the STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation) program at Touro Infirmary. The STAR program helps cancer survivors heal both physically and emotionally. Jo came into the program with a list of problems: swelling, upper extremity weakness, a decrease range of motion, fatigue, and pain and stiffness in her chest and shoulders. Her main goal was to alleviate these problems so she could return to work.
Through evaluation, it was determined that Jo had lymphedema, which is caused by the removal of or the damage of lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment. Swelling occurs because the lymph fluid is unable to drain well and the fluid builds up. “We manage her lymphedema with a manual lymphatic drainage, which is a type of gentle massage that helps with drainage,” says Physical Therapist Laura Gaillot, CLT, PT. “We also manage it through compression, exercise, stretching and a really good skin care routine because she’s prone to infection.”
Jo has been very proactive in the program and understands the importance of rehab. “She has been compliant with her stretching, and she is getting stronger every day,” says Gaillot. Since being in the program, Jo’s swelling has subsided, and her range of motion has improved. Currently, her main limiting factors are fatigue and discomfort, which is a huge improvement from her original host of problems. “The therapists in the STAR program have been wonderful and supportive,” Jo says. “I’m in awe at how concerned they are about my health.” From the dietitians to the physicians, every team member in the Touro’s Cancer Program helped Jo in her healing process.
For an appointment or additional information about Touro’s STAR Program, call (504) 897-7827 or visit touro.com/STAR.